SA longline hake fishery is one step closer to MSC sustainability certification

SOUTH Africans who want to enjoy a parcel of hake and chips with a clear conscience will be pleased to know that the tasty, nutritious fast food comes from a fishery that’s steadily working towards a stamp of approval from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  

The South African longline fishery for hake has secured a £50 000 (R1.2 million) grant from the MSC’s Ocean Stewardship Fund.

The grant was awarded to the fishery through the South African Hake Longline Association (SAHLLA) – and its implementing agency, Capricorn Marine Environmental (CapMarine). It will fund a two-year programme that will catapult the fishery towards achieving full MSC certification.

The MSC’s blue ecolabel is the world’s most widely recognised label for certified sustainable seafood. It is known to unlock seafood markets, particularly in northern Europe where consumers have a high degree of awareness about fisheries sustainability. 

Applications for grants come from all over the world and the South African hake longline fishery is one of only 16 fisheries to secure funding from the fund in 2023. SAHLLA national chairperson, Clyde Bodenham, said, for the past ten years, SAHLLA and its members have directed substantial effort towards achieving MSC certification. 

The funding will enable the longline fishery to continue to implement fisher training and awareness programmes and collate and analyse observer data, with the objective of reducing bycatch and improving the handling and release of endangered, threatened and protected species, particularly seabirds. It will also improve knowledge of the fishery’s footprint, ultimately helping to reduce its impact on the deep-sea environment.  

While SAHLLA members will still have financial responsibilities, the awarding of the grant is positive recognition of the work that the longline fishery has been doing to improve its environmental performance. In 2013, following the listing by the South African Sustainable Seas Initiative (WWF-SASSI) of longline-caught hake as “orange” on its Fish List – because of concerns about the incidental capture of species not targeted by fishers and negative impacts on seabirds –  SAHLLA collaborated with WWF-SA and CapMarine to implement a Fishery Conservation Project (FCP) to identify gaps in the fishery’s sustainability profile and develop actions for targeted improvement.

The success of the FCP culminated in the transition from a SASSI rating of “orange” to “green” for both species of longline-caught hake and kingklip.  

Although the FCP and the majority of associated actions were completed in 2015, a MSC-prescribed pathway was required for the fishery to meet the MSC Fisheries Standard and achieve certification. In 2019 SAHLLA reinitiated the at-sea observer programme using independent, third-party scientific observers. An association was also established with BirdLife South Africa to investigate the level of seabird mortality and develop vessel-specific bird-scaring lines to reduce the danger to birds by fishing gear.   

Andrea Angel of BirdLife South Africa welcomed the funding awarded to SAHLLA, saying they will continue to collaborate. 

Bodenheim said the work carried out over the next two years will enable SAHLLA to steer the hake longline fishery towards meeting the MSC’s certification standards. “The globally recognised MSC ecolabel – a benchmark of seafood sustainability – is the beguiling reward that is now well within reach.”